The six activists were convicted in the
Harare Magistrates Court on March 19 of trumped-up charges of “conspiracy to
commit public violence”. They had faced up to 10 years’ imprisonment, a
sentence demanded by the state prosecutor, Edmore Nyazamba.
While the decision not to jail the activists
is a victory for freedom of speech and assembly, the suspended sentence is on
condition that no “similar offence” is committed in the next five years. This
is a clear attempt to gag the activists, who will appeal against it. One of the
six, the general coordinator of the International Socialist Organization Zimbabwe
(ISO), Munyaradzi Gwisai, told supporters after the sentencing, “It won't intimidate
us. It will not deter us. I have no regrets.”
The six were part of a group of 45 people
arrested in Harare after an ISO-organised meeting that showed a video of the
mass protests against dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia. The 45 were
imprisoned, tortured and prevented from receiving prescription drugs and
medical attention. One of the activists, David Mpatsi, later died after this treatment
by the police.
a result of international protests, all but six of the 45 were eventually
released. The six kept in jail were Gwisai, Tafadzwa Antonater Choto, Hopewell
Gumbo (former president of the Zimbabwe National Students Union), Welcome
Zimuto (Zimbabwe National Students Union), Tatenda Mombeyara (Zimbabwe Labor
Center) and Edson Chakuma (United Food and Allied Workers Union). They endured
another 27 days of police brutality before being granted bail on stringent
conditions. The police involved in their torture have yet to be brought to
“Zimbabwe 6” were accused by the state of fomenting an uprising against the
regime of President Robert Mugabe, and charged with treason and “subverting a
constitutionally elected government”. These charges carried a possible death
sentence and were part of a crackdown by the Mugabe government against
opposition activists in the run-up to possible elections later this year.
Following international solidarity and public
protests by activists within Zimbabwe, the charges of treason were dropped and
replaced by the charge of “conspiracy to commit public violence”.
That the activists were found guilty even of
this lesser charge was a surprise to many, as the prosecution’s case had been
collapsing due to lack of both evidence and credibility. For example, the
state’s main witness, a spy at the film screening, was exposed by the defence
as being Rodwell Chitiyo from Zimbabwe’s secret police, and the state prosecutor,
Edmore Nyazamba, had claimed that “the date had been set” for the supposed “uprising”
being organised by the six.
In calling for the harshest possible sentencing
of the activists, Nyazamba went so far as to argue that in Biblical times these
activists would have been stoned, adding “Those who revolted against authority
were swallowed up when the ground opened up. Their families, including their
cats and dogs, were not spared.”
On March 20, solidarity protests demanding
that the activists be released and the convictions overturned took place in
Melbourne, Toronto, London, New York, Johannesburg and Vienna. Statements
condemning the convictions were issued by Amnesty International and Human
Rights Watch. The international solidarity and the courageous support for the
activists shown by ordinary people in Zimbabwe forced Zimbabwe’s “opposition” party,
the Movement for Democratic Change, to also speak out – at the very last minute
– against the persecution of the activists.
On the day of sentencing, the court gallery in
Harare was packed with supporters, and hundreds more, including trade
unionists, students and other community members, defied intimidation by rows of
riot police assembled at the court gates to protest outside.
The year of consistent pressure from within
and outside Zimbabwe undoubtedly had an impact, but even the reduced sentence
it won is an injustice. The campaign now is to have the convictions overturned
so that these activists, and all people in Zimbabwe, can exercise their
fundamental human right to speak out and organise against state repression and
[Lisa Macdonald is a member of the Socialist Alliance (Australia) international relations committee. She helped coordinate the Socialist Alliance's participation in the international solidarity campaign.]
January 29, 2013 -- THE Attorney-General (AG)’s bid to have International Socialist
Organisation (ISO) co-ordinator Munyaradzi Gwisai and his five
co-accused slapped with a stiffer penalty for conspirary to commit
public violence, hit a snag last week after High Court judge Justice
Charles Hungwe dismissed the State’s appeal for lack of merit.
REPORT BY CHARLES LAITON SENIOR COURT REPORTER
March last year, Harare magistrate Kudakwashe Jarabini ordered Gwisai
and his colleagues — Antoinette Choto, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Edson
Chakuma, Hopewell Gumbo and Welcome Zimuto — to pay $500 fine or spend
10 months in prison following their conviction on charges of conspiracy
to commit public violence.
In addition, they were each sentenced to 24 months in prison of which 12 months were suspended on condition of good behaviour.
The remaining 12 months were set aside on condition that each of the activists would perform 420 hours of community service.
The activists, however, appealed against the sentence and their appeal is still pending.
But the State filed a counter appeal, saying the sentence was too light.
The State argued that the activists were supposed to have received effective jail terms instead.
my opinion, the test to be applied when considering an application for
leave to appeal under Section 62 (1) of the Magistrates’ Court Act is
whether the AG has a reasonable prospect of success on appeal. If he
has, then leave to appeal should be granted.
“If he has not, the leave to appeal should be refused.
the above principles to the present application, I am satisfied that
the AG’s appeal does not enjoy any prospect of success,” ruled Justice
He said the State’s application for leave to appeal was not timeously made as stipulated by the law.
He further said the AG’s grounds of appeal failed to encompass matters set out under the Magistrates Act.
and his co-accused persons were arrested in February 2011, together
with 44 other social and human rights activists, but the other 39 were
later released for lack of evidence.
The State claimed then that
the activists were plotting to destabilise the government after they
watched video footages of uprisings in North Africa that saw the
deposition of long-serving rulers.